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Sex Robots: The Sad Future of Sexual Fantasy

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Photo by Purple Slog | CC BY 2.0

Yes, sex robots are emerging as the new, next-gen high-tech form of erotic indulgence.  Put aside the traditional dildo or innovative vibrator, forget about online porn or even immersive 3D VR porn — they’re so yesterday.  And good-bye to the living, sexual human other.  Who needs all that erotic stuff if you can play with a full-size (female) sex robot who fulfills all one’s (a guy’s) commands?

In July, the Netherland’s-based Foundation for Responsible Robotics (FRR) released a revealing study, Our Sexual Future With Robots, that explores what the authors identify as the “significant issues that we may have to deal with in the foreseeable future over the next 5 to 10 years.”

The study warns, “Now companies are developing robots for sexual gratification. But a robot designed for sex may have different impacts when compared with other sex aids. Those currently being developed are essentially pornographic representations of the human body – mostly female.”  It argues, “Such representations combined with human anthropomorphism may lead many to perceive robots as a new ontological category that exists in a fantasy between the living and the inanimate.”

The current generation of actual or proposed sex robots promote the exaggerated representation of female types and the endless fulfillment of conventional male sexual fantasy.  One should expect no less in our patriarchal, hetero-sexist culture. Sex robots are being featured in innumerable website graphics, whether involving a news story, corporate branding or a product promotional-advertising campaign.  These sex robots appear to be overwhelming female, white, young and adhere to conventional hyper-sexed body-image stereotypes. (One manufacturer offers male dolls.)

Over the years, artificial female sex characters have been cast as cyborgs in movies and TV shows.  Over the last four decades, these works have included the following — Stepford Wives (1975), Battlestar Gallactica (1979), Blade Runner (1982), Austin Powers (1997), Ex Machina (2015) and Humans (2015; based on Swedish sci-fi series, Äkta Människor [Real Humans], 2012).  They provide the creative pallet for today’s high-tech sex-preneurs.

Sex robots are replacing yesterday’s old-fashion blow-up sex dolls.  Robots are distinguished by silicon skin that is warm to the touch as well customized eye color, personalized nipple shape, the ability to speak and AI responses like shyness.  More compelling, they offer a variety of quasi-human forms of sex!

A host of tech companies are jumping onto the sex-robot bandwagon. True Companion, of Wayne, NJ, promotes Roxxxy Gold robots that allow the (male) user to pre-program its personalities, including “Frigid Farrah” (i.e., resistant) and “Wild Wendy” (i.e., adventurous).

Silicon Samantha was developed by Sergi Santos, a Barcelona, Spain, engineer.  He says his doll is covered in sensors that respond to human touch and can switch between “family” and “sexy” mode.  It is reported to have a functional vagina and mouth.

Abyss Creations, of San Marcos, CA, offers Realdoll represented by “Harmony.”  This female-characterized thing sits attentively, dressed in a suggestive white leotard, her chest thrust forward and her slim thighs expectant.  The company offers 18 different female body types and two male figures.  Each can be customized with different genitalia and variety of faces. Standard dolls start at $6,500 and, with more specific attributes, can run to $12,000.

Abyss’s CEO, Matt McMullen, noted, “We are developing the Harmony AI system to add a new layer to the relationships people can have with a Realdoll.”  He admitted, “Many of our clients rely on their imaginations to a great degree to impose imagined personalities on their dolls. With the Harmony AI, they will be able to actually create these personalities instead of having to imagine them. They will be able to talk to their dolls, and the AI will learn about them over time through these interactions, thus creating an alternative form of relationship.” He added, “The scope of conversations possible with the AI is quite diverse, and not limited to sexual subject matter.”

Earlier this year, a sex-robot bordello opened in an apartment in downtown Barcelona.  For $127/US per hour, one (male) could have a romantic rendezvous with one of four big-breasted Lumi Dolls – European Kati, blond with big lips and piercing green eyes, Asian Lili, African Leiza and blue-haired Aki, modeled after Japanese anime who wears her blue hair in ponytails. The robots can be dressed to the customer’s request and wait in the position the customer desires.  According to bordello’s management, the robots were “properly disinfected with special antibacterial soaps before and after use.”  The futuristic whore house lasted one month.

The introduction of sex robots has begun to spark critical reaction. Journalists and opinion writers in the U.S., U.K. and Australia have begun to raise alarms.  Like warnings raised earlier about online porn and VR sex, much of the criticism focuses on the sexism in both the promotion of female robots and the presentation of the female types as stereotypically passive, accommodating to the most conventional male fantasy.

Last September, two European academics — Kathleen Richardson, a “robot ethicist” at England’s Montfort University, and Erik Billing of Sweden’s University of Skövde — launched the Campaign Against Sex Robots.  They warn that the introduction of “machines in the form of women or children for use as sex objects, substitutes for human partners or prostituted persons.”  Going further, they argue “these kinds of robots are potentially harmful and will contribute to inequalities in society.”

Sex robots are emerging as a new product line of the sexual marketplace, the latest expression of future-sex.   A half-century ago, Herbert Marcuse identified future-sex as a form of “repressive de-sublimation.”  The more sex is integrated into the market economy, the less it functions as a revolutionary force of personal and social change.

In his 1964 reflection, One-Dimensional Man, Marcuse worried, “In this society, the productive apparatus tends to become totalitarian to the extent to which it determines not only the socially needed occupations, skills, and attitudes, but also individual needs and aspirations.” He goes on to identify an as-yet unacknowledged tendency of capitalism, “It thus obliterates the opposition between the private and public existence, between individual and social needs.  Technology serves to institute new, more effective, and more pleasant forms of social control and social cohesion.”

Under the conditions of repressive de-sublimation, the full scope of libidinous, erotic experience is systematically focused, disciplined.  As this happens, the power of immediate experience overwhelms that of a more traditional, mediated existence. As Marcuse warned, “The environment from which the individual could obtain pleasure – which he could cathect as gratifying almost as an extended zone of the body – has been rigidly reduced.  Consequently, the ‘universe’ of libidinous cathexis is likewise reduced.  The effect is a localization and contraction of libido, the reduction of erotic to sexual experience and satisfaction.”

Cyborg sex may be the 21st century’s contribution to what Susan Sontag once identified as “the pornographic imagination.”  Sadly, it more than likely foretells the sad future of erotic phantasy and the further disciplining of sexual pleasure.

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David Rosen is the author of Sex, Sin & Subversion:  The Transformation of 1950s New York’s Forbidden into America’s New Normal (Skyhorse, 2015).  He can be reached at drosennyc@verizon.net; check out www.DavidRosenWrites.com.

CounterPunch Magazine


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